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Travel: New Gadgets and Gizmos Make the Trip

August 25, 1995

Carol Dettoni sure travels with a lot of extra baggage these days, including a travel pillow, a water purifier, shower shoes and a bed light that hangs around her neck. Nancy Bevis brings a suction-cup holder for her toothbrush, to keep it sterile. And Emile T. Pappas, a Houston consultant, says he won’t get on a plane without a personal smoke hood.

A new breed of road warrior is emerging, people who are taking the concept of accessory traveling to a whole new level. With barely a thought to how it looks, these people are bringing a battery of new high-tech gizmos with them, not to mention everything from disposable paper underwear to tiny denture-repair kits. In the process, they’re fueling a retailing boom.

The number of travel doodads is ``growing like Topsy,″ says Jack Taylor, founder of Austin House Inc., a distributor in Oakville, Ontario. ``People are taking an enormous number of things with them that they never took five years ago.″ His company, which started out making money belts in 1974, now sells more than 125 products.

Part of this change is being caused by the ever-growing technical needs of business travelers. Americans made 295 million business trips last year, up from 222 million five years ago, and roving executives today often are required to cram their workstations into their carry-ons. They can choose now from at least seven varieties of power adaptors (and eight more for appliances with three-prong plugs), 36 phone adaptors and four kinds of electrical converters. Laptop luxuries such as special travel cases and miniature power strips also are available.

But business travelers are also demanding greater comfort and safety on the road, whether it’s for a business or pleasure trip. They tend to be older and well-heeled, types that can’t countenance camping sans remote-control TV sets, much less going to an out-of-the-way conference without their miniature eyeglass-repair kits and travel-sized peppermills.

Ms. Dettoni, for example, is so taken with the new gadgets she tests out a new one on almost every trip. The last time she went to Eastern Europe on business, the San Clemente, Calif., writer took along electric adaptors for all contingencies, antiwrinkle spray for her clothes, and mini shoeshine pads _ along with her laptop computer and modem. ``The little niceties along the road simplify life,″ she says.

Similarly, Mildred Chesley of Laguna Hills, Calif., carries some 18 gizmos on the road. They include: two flashlights, an inflatable footrest and pillow, earplugs, eyeshade, smoke detector, heating coil, a doorstop security alarm and both inflatable and foldable hangers. Occasionally, she might add a portable fan and collapsible chair too. Yet her total luggage count is still very small, because she also uses miniaturized objects and skimps on clothing.

``I’m not always dressed to the teeth,″ concedes Mrs. Chesley, a widow of an airline pilot.

There wasn’t always such a wide array of portable gewgaws, although travel provisioners have long outfitted people headed for exotic locales. Until recently, the few shops that targeted the average traveler focused on basics such as locks and currency converters. But even when they’re staying in comfortable lodgings, travelers today don’t want to be caught without handy items.

``Not all the baby boomers will sleep on the ground the way they did in the ’60s,″ says Joseph D. Fridgen, chairman of Michigan State University’s department of park, recreation and tourism resources. ``Their lifestyles are going to flow into their travel patterns.″

The International Map Trade Association says its U.S. retail membership has grown 50 percent since 1990, mostly through smaller stores offering accessories and maps. Luggage and bookstores are increasing the shelf space allotted to accessories. Chains are flourishing, as well: Rand McNally’s retail division has mushroomed to 22 stores from four five years ago. ``It certainly is a growth area,″ says Annette Dexter, associate editor of Travelware, a trade publication.

Most successful, say vendors, are those accessories that have to do with property security and personal safety. A recent survey by Travelware found that personal alarms and door locks were flying off the shelves. Also popular: window-jammers, motion detectors and all varieties of luggage locks, including small, sticky seals that reveal when a bag has been opened.

Mr. Pappas, of Houston, who travels overseas frequently for his job as an extermination consultant, goes a bit further, carrying not only his smoke hood but a mask to filter out insecticide, which some foreign airlines spray in cabins. He also travels with a false wallet full of blank paper in his back pocket to distract thieves from his two secure belt pouches.

During a visit to a Portuguese shrine, the fake was stolen. ``I didn’t even know it until I got out of the church,″ Mr. Pappas says.

But not all the travel items do well, of course. Six-packs of air-sickness bags bombed in Magellan’s, a catalogue, says its president, John McManus, adding that he ended up giving them out to employees for lunch sacks. Departures, another catalog, struck out with voice-activated electronic memo pads and a souped-up version of the Swiss Army knife. Another reject: a box that is supposed to protect film from airport x-ray zappers.

Turns out, the catalog-maker now concedes, most airport x-ray machines don’t damage film.

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